So, the monsoon rolls on, humid, occasionally rainy, but substantially more pleasant than the last time I wrote this column. Guilty as I was of serving up eggs and other quick—not fast—food, I thought it was time to get more creative with my cooking, and damn the perspiration. Good food, after all, is 110% sweat (with apologies to American playwright Robert Riskin, who said the same thing about art).
Click hear To see a slideshow for a step-by-step guide to making lamb chops
I still sweated a great deal as I slaved away at evolving a recipe that involved much roasting and grinding, my favourite pursuits where meats are concerned. I have previously written of the wonders of a freshly roasted spice, the gradual build-up of heat, the first smoke and the release of aromas so heady it connects you to all things primal and pleasurable.
Perhaps I’m getting carried away, but when I roast a spice, I wonder: How did we ever allow our lives to be overwhelmed by that box of packaged spices?
Also Read Samar Halarnkar’s earlier columns
In the West, they say good meat must be allowed to boast its own virtues, not be subsumed by spices. I truly understood this in Brazil and Spain where I had some of the blandest yet tastiest cuts of pork, beef and lamb.
This philosophy does not work very well with tough Indian goats. They consume everything from thorns to paper to dried grass. I have rarely, if ever, discerned any flavour in a desi goat or lamb.
The secret of roasting spices is to control the heat. Keep it too high, and the spice will blacken fast. Low to medium works well, depending on the intensity of your burner. Let them snap, crackle and do their magic. Whenever I’m roasting a spice, I seem to magically draw my wife into the kitchen, where her naturally irascible personality surrenders to a spice-suffused dreaminess.
Never underestimate the power of a well-roasted spice on meats or stand-alone gravies and sauces. I say stand-alone because you can make a basic sauce and use with meats, vegetables or even an Indianized pasta, which we did with the Fennel and cumin sauce (below). I laced mutton chops with this sauce and in the evening, I lightly sautéed peppers and onions for my vegetarian half, to which she added the same sauce and piled it prettily on some leftover pasta.
I kept the spices minimal in the chops marinade to see if I could tease out their flavour. Alas, there was none, so the sauce worked well in imparting the chops with some body and bounce.
I grind the roasted spices in a mixie or pound them in a mortar pestle. It depends on my mood really. It’s also a good idea to grind spices in a machine if you plan on using them in a sauce. Roughly pounded is good for marination. It all depends on how much you’re willing to sweat.
At the end of it all, I was too sweaty to make rice, so I took my favourite short cut. I heated water and poured it over couscous. In 5 minutes, I was ready to taste the product of my toil and sweat. If it makes me smile like this again, I’m willing to sweat some more.
Cardamom and pepper lamb chops
1/2 kg lamb chops
3 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
2 tsp grainy mustard
2 large black cardamoms (badi elaichi)
2 small cardamoms (chhoti elaichi)
Roast the cardamoms slowly until they release an aroma. Pound in a mortar and pestle until a coarse powder results. Marinate chops with cardamom, mustard, wine, pepper and salt. Keep aside for at least an hour.
Grill the chops in an oven or on a stove top on medium to low heat until golden brown. I kept them medium; if you’re going to go for well done, make sure you baste them with some olive oil.
Fennel and cumin sauce
2 tbsp fennel (saunf) seeds
1 tbsp cumin (jeera) seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red-chilli powder
2 large puréed tomatoes
1 large pod of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp olive oil
Gently roast the fennel and cumin seeds until the fennel starts to change colour and both release aromas. Grind in a small food processor and set the spices aside.
Heat 2 tsp of olive oil, fry the garlic lightly. Pour in the puréed tomato, and when it begins to bubble, stir in the roasted spices, red-chilli powder and turmeric.
Baby onions and roasted peppers
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into thumbnail-size pieces
1 yellow pepper, ditto
6 baby (sambar) onions, halved
1/2 tsp onion seeds (kalonji)
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp olive oil
In 2 tsp of olive oil, heat the onion and sesame seeds till they splutter. Fry onions till they start to soften. Add peppers and toss lightly. Keep them crunchy.
Note: You can pour the sauce lightly over the chops and the vegetables. I ate the chops with couscous; my wife ate the veggies with penne pasta.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread , at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org